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There is a Palestinian Mandela, and he is rotting in an Israeli prison
By: Shmuel Amir
Hagada Hasmalit

25 January 2014 (English translation 17 February 2014)

Original Hebrew:

Not long ago the leaders of the “Free World” attended the funeral of the leader of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela. The Western Media enlisted in the campaign of glorification of the memory of Mandela, and the hypocrisy triumphed. The hypocrite-in-chief was US President Barack Obama. Mandela “woke me up to my responsibilities”, [1] he declared. The vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Adam Habib, thought otherwise. He told Israeli journalist Gideon Levy that it is hard to imagine that Mandela was would see Obama, who bombs civilians with drones, as following in his footsteps. The British journalist British John Pilger wondered what Mandela would think of the pilgrimage to his cell in Robben Island by Obama, the man who continues to imprison people in Guantanamo. Indeed this man’s hypocrisy, disguised by the dark colour of his skin, is particularly revolting. But the crocodile tears of the other Western politicians were no more honest. In real time – during the long years of Apartheid, almost all of them continued to maintain close relations with South Africa. A few articles of condemnation in liberal newspapers sufficed to clear their consciences. Israel at least was more “honest” – Peres and Netanyahu did not go near the funeral. They feared, justly, that the public would receive them with angry catcalls. They have not forgotten that Israel was the main supporter of Apartheid South Africa and also collaborated with it (especially the tireless man of peace Shimon Peres), in developing nuclear weapons. South Africa is not Iran, after all.

Why was Mandela imprisoned for 27 years? He was imprisoned when he became the determined (“extremist” in the language of the regime) leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and called for resistance, including with violence, to oppression. And indeed through unending struggle he finally succeeded in bringing about political freedom for the Blacks. And throughout the entire period of the struggle Mandela was branded as a terrorist “with blood on his hands”. Yes, this icon of the fight for freedom, who is admired today all over the world, was besmirched in his time in the most egregious way. Only in June 2008 did the US Congress remove Mandela from its list of terrorists. A list which also included Salvador Allende, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the African revolutionary Patrice Lumumba (Is Marwan Bargouti also on it?). That is not at all surpising; anti-colonial leaders have always been slandered by colonial leaders. Mahatma Gandhi, another figure who is universally admired today, was also viciously attacked by Winston Churchill, one of the leaders of British colonialism at the time, who proposed to take Gandhi to the gates of New Delhi to be crushed by elephants. And the leaders of the uprisings in Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba and all other leaders who rose up against colonialism got the same treatment.

And today in Israeli prisons too there are many Palestinians who fought for the liberation of their people from the Occupation and are described as criminals “with blood on their hands”. Most prominent among them, whom the Palestinian public rightly see as their “Madiba” (the title given to Mandela during his long imprisonment), is Marwan Barghouti. Many will ask: how can you compare Barghouti to Mandela?

This is why it is permitted to compare: they both fought or are still fighting (Barghouti) for the liberation of their peoples, in South Africa from Apartheid and here from Occupation. They were both willing to sacrifice many years of their lives for the freedom of their people. They both strove for true peace and a just solution to the conflict, in Israel for two states for two peoples and in South Africa for the dismantling of Apartheid. Mandela sat in prison for 27 years; Marwan Barghouti has sat there for “only” 12 years so far. He was arrested several times; the last time was in 2002. He was sentenced to four life sentences, but they could not prove him guilty of the crimes he was charged with, he was accused only of “moral responsibility” for the Palestinian resistance. Mandela himself expressed desire his desire to be present at the trial as an observer.

The Israeli Occupation regime has good reasons to fear Marwan Barghouti and to keep him in prison. After all, he has declared that it is in his power to unite Fatah and Hamas in a joint struggle against the Occupation. Moreover he represents a consistent political programme and path. The Prisoners’ Document of June 2006, signed by activists of all the factions - Fatah, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad – states that the objective of the Palestinian people is to end the Occupation in the territories that have been occupied since 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, and a solution to of the refugee problem based on international resolutions.

He described his view on the way forward for the Palestinian struggle in an interview in 2009: “It has never been our way to choose negotiations alone. We always called for a fruitful combination of negotiations, diplomacy, resistance and popular and political activism”. And indeed it is only based on those principles that it will be possible to Palestinian independence, sooner or later. To be sure, the combination of resistance and popular and political activism scares the Israeli Establishment more than anything, but most unfortunately it also scares those who see themselves as peace-lovers and liberals. The word “resistance” is associated with violence, and of course that is permitted only to the rulers, as we all know.

It is they who have means of violence in quantity and quality that the resisters can only dream of, as the number of victims will attest. In all the colonial struggles the number of victims on the resisting side is incomparably larger than those among the on the regime side. A dagger, pistol, knife and even primitive bombs are of little use against tanks, airplanes and artillery. Far more blood is on their hands than on those of the “terrorists”. Of course right away they will tell you that they kill civilians. And then I recall the Israeli general who was asked what he felt when he dropped a one-ton bomb on populated area, and he replied: “I feel a slight jolt on the wing”. True, civilians are harmed civilians in the just struggle for independence, though far fewer than those killed by the occupiers. It has been thus in all anti-colonial struggles anti-colonial: in Algeria, Vietnam and India … and also in Israel.

Wars for freedom are not without victims. The Israeli War of Independence too did not look like an English tea party at five in the afternoon. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were expelled and massacres were committed, of which the best-known is Deir Yassin. The best way to liberate Palestine is to liberate Marwan Barghouti and to begin peace talks with him immediately. That is not as crazy as they want to make it sound today. Years ago no less of an Establishment man than Binyamin Ben-Eliezer that said that “the negotiations being conducted today are virtual. Only the release of Barghouti can change the situation.” [2]

Amazingly, the Palestinian Authority itself is not demanding Barghouti’s release along with the other prisoners. The “Barghouti round” has not come yet. Evidently it was not requested or perhaps requested feebly. And how it is possible to sit down for peace talks without demanding Barghouti’s participation? That too is an open question. Is it too much to hope that someone from the political echelon in Israel will have the strength of character to call for peace talks with Barghouti – or with Palestinian representatives who are recognized like him? Of course not; for us, peace talks are only something to be done with representatives of America like Kerry. We all have experience with that. The media tell us how he works overtime, striving tirelessly. Even Minister Yaalon called him obsessive about peace. Except that the objective of the governments of the US and Israel are completely contradictory for to those of the Palestinians. The former, that is, Israel, wants a Palestinian Bantustan, subject to Israel’s will. The US for its part remains a loyal supporter of Israel, which it arms to the teeth with modern weapons in order to strengthen its influence in the Middle East. But the Palestinians, despite their weakness today, can never reconcile themselves to that.

The principles of peace are known to all: an end to the Occupation, the 1967 borders and an agreed solution to the refugee problem. Finally we must keep reminding ourselves again and again that President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the American Administration are not the solution; they are the problem. The USA is the enabler of the Israeli Occupation. Without that aid – military, political, economic and diplomatic, there would be no Occupation.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

Translator`s notes


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